Turning the Page in Iraq


Written by Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress

President Barack Obama continues the process of getting America’s priorities right on national security by overseeing the withdrawal of the last of our troops in Iraq last month. But his administration needs to stay focused on lingering concerns in the country and the region. The United States should help shape Iraq’s future role in the Middle East and it should offer necessary support to the Iraqis who risked their lives working with America.

Time to move on

If you want a preview of the debates likely to occur over the upcoming days about the Obama administration’s policy decisions on Iraq, listen to this program from a few weeks ago on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation.” Legendary journalists Ted Koppel and Bob Woodward and retired Gen. Jack Keane criticized President Obama for “giving up” in Iraq and letting Iran “win.” But listeners who called into the show—all Iraq war veterans—held the opposite view: They agreed that America did what it could for Iraq and it was time to move on to other challenges in the world.

Most of America has moved on from Iraq. According to this recent poll the vast majority of Americans (90 percent) says that the United States either achieved its goals in Iraq (50 percent) or would not achieve its goals in Iraq no matter how long we stayed (40 percent).

But the disconnect displayed on “Talk of the Nation” between the Beltway and the rest of the country—as well as the split between the pundits who call for wars with no end in sight and those who served in the trenches of those wars—has become a common feature in America’s national security politics.

President Obama is helping close the chapter on one of the most acrimonious and divisive debates in our country’s history by bringing some closure to the Iraq war. The president is also leading the country in an effort to rebalance its priorities overseas and at home. If the United States had remained overinvested in Iraq as many of the Obama administration’s critics argued, it would have presented great opportunity costs for the United States on many other fronts in the world, including Asia and the broader Middle East.

This rebalancing of the U.S. national security agenda—previewed nearly two years ago when the Obama administration released its national security strategy in 2010—is a necessary step for restoring America’s power and credibility in the world. For far too many years the United States was stuck in the alleyways of Iraq and as a result lost sight of the wider trends in the world.

Staying engaged in Iraq

But as the United States shifts from being overinvested in Iraq and rebalances to focus on broader challenges in the world, it needs to strike the right balance and deal with some unfinished business in Iraq and the region.

As my Center for American Progress colleague Peter Juul argues in this article, the Obama administration should plan to offer long-term assistance to Iraq on several fronts. Even though the war is coming to a close, the United States needs to continue to invest in diplomatic and security cooperation efforts to shape Iraq’s emerging role as a leader in the region.

The United States also has a moral obligation to address the challenges faced by thousands of Iraqis whose lives are currently threatened due to their work and affiliation with the United States since 2003. Several analysts and advocates, including George Packer of The New Yorker, Trudy Rubin of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Kirk Johnson of The List Project have called attention to this problem. I co-authored this CAP policy report in 2009 with suggestions and research on previous examples of the United States intervening to help allies endangered by security conditions in their particular countries.

The Obama administration hasn’t implemented a comprehensive and effective policy to address these lingering security threats for some of the United States’ closest allies inside of Iraq—those who risked their lives as translators, advisers, and partners in the U.S. efforts there.

The Obama administration is taking the right strategic step in Iraq—one I personally called for and supported for several years. It is a necessary step for U.S. national security interests. But as the our country continues to shift its policies it needs to help shape Iraq’s future role in the region and offer necessary support to Iraqi allies who put their lives on the line while working with the United States.

This post was originally published by the Center for American Progress.


Related Stories:

Troops Are Home from Iraq, But the War is Far From Over

Iraqi Women Speak: US Troop Withdrawal a Double-Edged Sword

With One War Ending, the Military Community Remembers


Photo of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Adm. Mike Mullen from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via flickr


Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

Yes, “America did what it could for Iraq”. It trashed the most westernized country in the Arab Middle East. It got rid of a secular dictator and replaced him with another one, this time in a Shiite theocracy. After the previous Gulf war attack sanctions preventing import of food and medical supplies the US made an unprovoked “shock and awe” attack on an undefended Baghdad because of which the injured civilians, including children, had to endure amputations without benefit of anesthetic. Al Qaeda that previously had no foothold there, now conducts almost daily bombings. Women who previously dressed in western fashion now wear black tents and government jails are full of them, tortured to force confessions. Where there was previously no religious tension, Sunnis and Shiites are at each others throats and Christians, resident there since Christ, are now persecuted and many have been forced to flee. Foreign oil companies have taken charge of the oil.I believe this is called “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED !”.

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

We still need to get the many thousands of mercenaries out of there that are operating out of the US embassy. I do not like the way Obama drug his heels and didn't want to withdraw the troops and only agreed to withdraw them because they would not allow us to build permanent bases and would not agree to give our troops a blank check immunity against war crimes perpetrated there. It is like he really wanted to stay there and was mad he had to bring them home.

Kenny West
Kenny Wes6 years ago

republicans are trying desperately not to learn ANYTHING from their mistakes. This country could actually move forward if we could just get rid of these idiots. I'm an Obama supporter but I'm telling you Ron Paul's foreign policy is starting to make a lot of sense. Our imposing policy on the world is creating a lot of our problems. We should do one of two things, either take over the world while we're in a position to do it or pull back. We're just hanging ourselves out there all the time creating our own problems.

Kenny West
Kenny Wes6 years ago

Enough with Iraq already, leaving Iraq is just proving Obama was right on opposing the surge. The minute we leave Iraq, it will go back to being Iraq and there is nothing we can do about it, doesn't matter when we leave. Obama was spot on again, the fact that anyone still listens to republicans just shows how center stupid this country still is.

Thom Loveless
Thom Loveless6 years ago

'.....we wasted a trillion dollars, almost 4,500 US troops, 100,000 Iraqi troops, and 30,000 US injured soldiers....'

Please don't forget the 100,000 plus Iraqi citizens killed in this ill fated (and likely illegal) invasion.......

Thom Loveless
Thom Loveless6 years ago

Please America, just stop. We can no longer afford the damage and loss of life your 'help' brings with it.......

Katherine Head
Katherine Head6 years ago

i'm very glad we pulled out, now we can fix our own country... but yeah, since we ruined their country we have a bit of support owed there too... i don't mean we need to take over 'fixing' their country, we just need to provide the necessary support to our allies...

James D.
James D6 years ago

Just as a reminder, if John Potty Mouth McCain had been elected, we would still be in Iraq, in full force, fifty years from now. On the same note, if Obama had not kept his promise to get us out (which he actually did in as rapid a manner as our signed agreements with the Iraq government and the logistics of extracting that large a force allowed for) and any Republican were elected President next year, we would be in Iraq for the next fifty years and at the same time in Iran for the next fifty years.

Be Progressive, Vote Progressive!

Victoria Pitchford
Vicky P6 years ago

It was stable before the US went in and destroying it and created some more enemies for themselves.